The Chinese Communist Party has bowed to international condemnation of its media censorship and allowed access to websites that it had previously blocked in contravention of promises made to the world that it would open up the country for the Olympics.
In an extraordinary move, the President, Hu Jintao, met directly with foreign journalists yesterday to answer the criticism that has enveloped China since it broke a promise to allow free and unfettered access during the Beijing Games.
Mr Hu said the Chinese Government had been "working in earnest" to honour its commitments and pledged that deeper political reforms would come after the Olympics.
Mr Hu said it was against the Olympic spirit to bring politics into the Games, and that throwing issues such as censorship in China's face served no purpose.
"It's only inevitable that people from different countries and regions of the world don't see eye-to-eye on certain issues," he said.
"I don't think politicising the Olympic Games will do any good to address these issues.
"It runs counter to the Olympic spirit and also to the shared aspirations of the people of the world."
In a stunning development, the Chinese authorities were last night working with an International Olympic Committee group to reopen websites, including those of national broadcasters such as BBC China and Deutsche Welle as well as non-governmental organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International.
Last night these sites were accessible in Beijing and the IOC press commission chairman, Kevan Gosper, said the Chinese were working on unblocking more sites.
"The IOC president, Jacques Rogge, met the Chinese to discuss this problem. All along the IOC has not shifted from its stated position and that was to have no censorship of the internet," said Mr Gosper.
"The Chinese have the right to close down sites that are pornographic or subversive, but otherwise everything that should be free, and wasn't, now will be.
Mr Gosper said he had been reassured there had been no deal made between IOC officials and Chinese party officials.
The backflip came after China was condemned by the US President, George Bush, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and some European and Asian leaders.
The censorship had put Dr Rogge in an embarrassing position on his arrival in Beijing, after he had reassured the world's media a fortnight ago that there would be open internet access.
Some of the sites the Chinese consider subversive and will continue to block are those relating to the outlawed Falun Gong movement, the Tibetan government in exile and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
With 20,000 journalists expected for the Games, the Chinese Government faces unprecedented scrutiny of its human rights record, the crackdown in Tibet and support for the Sudanese regime.
"As always we will continue to provide facilities for foreign journalists coming to China to report," Mr Hu said.
"Of course, we also hope the foreign reporters will abide by Chinese laws and regulations, and we also hope you will provide objective reports of what you see here."
All questions for Mr Hu had to be submitted in advance. He did not respond when a German journalist tried to ask a question about human rights.